A New Submarine Capability, But What Happens Now?

By Sophie Richards on 07 October 2021

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The landmark announcement from the Australian, UK and US governments declaring the AUKUS security pact is one of the most significant ever made.

Whilst the AUKUS pact will have a bearing on more than just Australia’s future submarines, it is the fall out from the decision to adopt a nuclear submarine capability that has been felt most acutely across the Australian defence industry community.

A new submarine capability

The decision to acquire a nuclear submarine capability and move away from conventional diesel-electric powered boats has had, and continues to have, a significant impact on the defence industry submarine-related workforce at large.

Much detail is still unknown, but there are important points that we do already know. The Royal Australian Navy will acquire nuclear powered submarines and will no longer pursue the diesel-electric powered solution provided by Naval Group. The new vessels will be built in Adelaide, where the AWD upgrade, Collins Full Cycle Docking (FCD) and Life Of Type Extension (LOTE) will also take place.

Workforce impact

The impact of this decision is complex and far-reaching. In the immediate aftermath, it is felt most keenly by the organisations contracted to undertake work on SEA 1000. In addition to Naval Group and Lockheed Martin, many suppliers and SMEs have been impacted. So too have the employees of these organisations, some of whom are currently overseas working on the project.

In Adelaide, where a workforce of over 450 people is engaged on SEA 1000, we expect that most will be readily absorbed by current defence programs, including AWD, FCD or LOTE. This is especially true for workers with STEM skill sets.

Nationally, despite the pause in SEA 1000 recruitment, demand across naval acquisition and sustainment projects remains very high. Kinexus’ 2021 Hiring Intentions and Workforce Report recorded that 41% of all hiring would be in the naval sector with over 1,500 new positions created. SEA 1000 hiring make up less than a fifth of that figure.

Next steps

Many organisations currently involved in SEA 1000 are looking to redeploy staff onto other programs. For workers who have been impacted various options are available. It is probable that, at least in the short-term, the current future submarine workforce will disperse across various other Defence platforms and domains.

Demand for workers in Adelaide is significant, and in many cases future submarine experience can be readily transferred onto new domains or platforms.

Collins FCD and LOTE will need the full range of submarine related skills. Whilst timings are unclear, demand for skill sets such as high-end design, integration, project management and commercial could be imminent.

For those who are committed to working on Australia’s future submarine capability, this work will once again become available in Adelaide, but it is too early to know when that will be or what that will look like.

More information will become available over time, and there are various excellent industry organisations advocating for this as we speak.

Despite the longer-term opportunities, this is a worrying and uncertain time for existing SEA 1000 workers. However, given the extant demand for workers on other Defence programs in SA and nationally, workers should be confident that good opportunities will become available to them.

Now is the time to consider what the best next step will be, and make informed and considered decisions.

Get in touch

For advice on what the best next step looks like contact Claire Whitehouse, Delivery Manager for SA. Claire is a recruitment and HR professional with over 20 years’ experience. Over the past three years she has been living and breathing all things defence industry recruitment and is our South Australia specialist.

Image credit: Department of Defence

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